Obá Oriaté Willie Ramos, Ilarí Obá
Miami has been rocked by a recent incident involving Lukumí and traditional Yoruba priests and priestesses. At least two people already ordained in the Lukumí priesthood, have been re-ordained by a group of traditional Yoruba priests that have been causing unfortunate and destabilizing waves in this city. Despite the controversial nature of the ceremonies, to add insult to injury, the rites counted with the active participation of Lukumí olorishas and a Lukumí apuón and babalawo who has become relatively well known in the community since his arrival from Cuba three or four years ago.
Ultimately, while as a priest I may have my personal opinion about this incident, an opinion that seems to be shared by the majority of the Orisha community in this city, there is little I or anyone can do at this stage to revert this process. Clearly, the participants—the ordained and the traditional Yoruba olorishas that performed the ordination—made a choice and I will respect that choice, even if I disagree. My major conflict, however, is not with them, but with what is clearly a process that will subsequently bring about instability to our mutual religious traditions. Sadly, these olorishas are undermining the wellbeing of the Orisha religion, in Africa and in the Americas, with reckless disregard for the long-term consequences of their actions. This, too, is their choice, but it is an option that I and many other Lukumís in this city are not willing to accept acquiescently because at its core are issues of orthodoxy and validity.
As such, as an olorisha who for years has made numerable contributions to the expansion of Lukumí religion; toward promoting understanding, tolerance, and respect in a society that does not necessarily accept us, I join the growing number of olorishas in Miami that condemn the vile and offensive ridicule of the Lukumí Orisha tradition and the contemptible disrespect for our ancestors by all the participants in these ceremonies, but more so by those Lukumí that played an active part in this travesty. I stress that were it not for our foremothers and fathers, for those alagbás that laid the foundations of Orisha in Cuba and other areas of the New World, Traditional Yoruba priests and priestesses would not be able to function outside Africa today with the facility that they do. Whether they acknowledge it or not, and in spite our virtues and flaws, we, the Cuban Lukumí, laid the foundations in this region of the New World. If for nothing else, we must at least be given our due respect for this much.
I sincerely believe that those Lukumí olorishas that actively participated in these ordinations consciously mocked our Lukumí forebears and our religious heritage. Their direct participation in these initiations is reprehensible, irresponsible, and by all means unforgiveable because they perpetrate a direct and outrageous affront to us as a religious community. Their actions constitute a deplorable transgression against our religious legacy because they question and cast doubt on our validity and orthodoxy as a growing world religion. As such, I am not willing to sit idly while a misguided and injudicious group of people maliciously burrow at the foundations of our community, disregard its historical plight, destroy its stability, and question its legitimacy and validity, something that has taken the Lukumí and their descendants almost two hundred years to accomplish! We cannot allow the seeds of discord and instability to sprout among us—Traditionalists, Lukumí, and all Diasporan traditions—because instead of promoting understanding and mutual cooperation, these seeds will only evolve into confusion, tension and intolerance. Sadly, instead of seeking unification and cooperation, these initiations will only contribute to the further fractioning of the Orisha religion in Africa and the Americas.
Consequently, this disrespectful and unethical violation of our religious ethics has left me no choice but to unreservedly join the ranks of Lukumís that support those rightful critics that are calling for the outright censure and complete banishment from our rituals of those priests that participated in this insolent and odious travesty. While we cannot revoke their priesthood, given that this is Olodumare’s prerogative, we can reject them and refuse to allow them to benefit in any way from our rituals and celebrations. If our practices are not legitimate enough for these Lukumí olorishas to respect and defend, then they should not take any part at all in any Lukumí ceremony!
Nevertheless, the question of the long-term effects of these events still remains unanswered. By condemning these individuals and closing our doors to them we will not resolve the major issues at hand. This requires a completely different approach. For years, I and others have continuously stressed the need for the Diaspora and Africa to sit down and discuss our religious position and future. At this point, it is imperative that we do so before these and similar despicable offenses provoke an avalanche of controversies among our priests and priestesses that will only spread greater havoc and lead to further misunderstanding and divisionism.
In the name of civility, I call for a congress that counts with the participation of legitimate and reverent representatives from Yorubaland, Cuba, the United States, Brazil, Trinidad, and other areas of the Orisha Diaspora. I call for a meeting of the minds, one in which we can all come together to the table and speak as equals, free of condescension and arrogance. It is crucial that we sponsor an encounter in which we can openly engage the ways in which we as a religious community can achieve a common awareness, a mutual understanding, respect for our differences, and most importantly, the unification of a people that worship the same deities even if our approaches differ! If we cannot respect our own devotion, regardless of our ritual differences, then we cannot, and do not, respect Olodumare and the orishas!
Obá Oriaté Willie Ramos, Ilarí Obá